On June 10, 1944, during the invasion of Normandy that began on D-Day, June 6, Fr. Philip Edelen, an Army chaplain and a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, gave his last full measure for his country and his Priesthood.
The Edelen family occupies an important place in the history of Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Diocese of Raleigh. The family moved to Raleigh from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They eventually had five sons. The eldest, Philip Barton Edelen, was born in Harrisburg on June 29, 1913, but the family moved when he was still a small child. At that time there were only two churches in Raleigh. The parish church was Sacred Heart, the other church was Holy Name Chapel at the Catholic orphanage two miles away. The Centennial Campus of North Carolina State University now occupies the land on which the chapel and Orphanage stood, except for the land on which the new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will be built.
Philip attended grammar and high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral School. He then entered Mount St. Mary College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. On May 2, 1940, he became the first member of Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish to be ordained a priest. After ordination he was assigned to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Southern Pines and later to Blessed Sacrament in Burlington.
When World War II started, he volunteered as a chaplain and was sent to Europe. On June 9, while ministering to troops in the 1944 Normandy Invasion, he was struck in the head by shrapnel from an exploding mortar shell. He died on June 10th, and was buried there in Normandy. Fr. Edelen’s younger brother, Neale, was also killed in the war.
Fr. Edelen was the only priest from our Diocese who died in the war. For years, his grave was tended by the Contesse d’Ursely with the help of her daughters. The noble lady kept in touch with Fr. Edelen’s mother for a number of years.
In the old Catholic Center on Nazareth Street, at the entrance to the chapel which was dedicated to Fr. Edelen, was a cabinet containing his Crucifix, his Confessional Stole, and the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which he carried with him and prayed daily. There was also the American Flag that covered Fr. Edelen’s coffin at his burial. These artifacts are currently on loan to the Raleigh City Museum.
In 2008, the Fr. Thomas Price Council #2546 of the Knights of Columbus, gathered near their clubhouse in Raleigh to dedicate a Marian grotto (photo at right) built in honor of Fr. Edelen.